Returning to Work or School while Breastfeeding Your Baby - Some tips for Success December 28, 2012 21:23

Congratulations on your decision to provide the best possible nutrition and protection for your baby after returning to work or school! Here are some tips to help you succeed.

Combining breastfeeding with work or school is challenging, but well worth it. The health and immunity benefits your little one gets from your breast milk cannot be matched by formula. And sitting down to cuddle and nurse after a busy day is a wonderful way to de-stress and reconnect with your baby.

Two keys to success are planning and being organized. Below are tips that other mothers have found helpful, as well as information about the federal law to support breastfeeding mothers at work.

What should you do before you deliver?

Before you begin maternity leave:

 

  • Find out how much time you will be able to take off from work or school after you deliver. 
  • Take as much family leave as you can to have more time with your baby.  Research your options for returning to work or school.  Can you work/study part-time for a while?  Can you telecommute or use distance learning? Is there a more flexible work or school schedule you can try? 
  • Talk with your supervisor. Will he/she be supportive? You may want to point out the company advantages of having breastfeeding employees: 
    • »  Less time lost from work because breastfed babies tend to stay healthier than their formula fed counterparts.
    • »  Fewer health expenses for the baby and lower overall health care 
         costs. 
    • »  Higher employee satisfaction, morale and productivity and lower staff 
          turnover. 
    • »  Major recruitment incentive for new employees. 
    • »  Reputation as a company concerned for the welfare of working 
          mothers and children. 
  • When making arrangements for childcare, choose a provider that supports your wishes to provide pumped breast milk to the baby while you are away and allows you to nurse your baby as soon as you return. 
  • Be aware of the laws regarding employees who are breastfeeding. On March 23, 2010, as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a federal law amending Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) (29 U.S.C. 207) was passed. This law mandates break times for breastfeeding mothers to express milk.
  • Find out where you will be expressing milk for your baby. Does the room have an electrical outlet? Is there a refrigerator nearby? If not, you may want to purchase a pump with rechargeable battery back-up and an insulated cooler with ice packs (blue ice). Is there a sink available to wash breast pump parts between pumping sessions?
  • If not, is there a microwave handy to steam clean the parts? If not, you may want to purchase wipes you can use to clean the parts.

What should you do before you return to work or school? 

  • Learn how to manually express breast milk, even if you plan to use a breast pump.
  • Become familiar with your breast pump. Practice setting up your pump and putting the parts together. Try it out. Adjust the settings so that the speed and suction are as close as possible to how your baby nurses.
  • About two or three weeks before returning to work or school, begin pumping once each morning about an hour after you have nursed your baby. (Prolactin levels are highest in the morning.) You may not get any milk during the first couple days, but you are sending a message to your body to begin increasing your milk supply.
  • Gradually add two or three more pumping sessions between feedings. Once you start to get milk, store it in the freezer for emergencies. Store expressed or pumped milk in small amounts, two to four ounces. 
  • Introduce the bottle to your baby two or three weeks before you go back to work or school. It may be easier to have someone else offer the bottle, since your baby links you with breastfeeding. Try to use the newborn-sized nipple for as long as you breastfeed, but you may have to experiment to find one your baby likes. 
  • Consider buying a “hands-free” nursing bra that allows you to use your hands while you are pumping milk.
  • It may be helpful to schedule a practice day. Set your alarm for the time you will be getting up when you’re working or attending class. Take your baby to childcare for at least part of the day. Breastfeed and pump at the times you expect to during work or school. At the end of the day, see if your baby drank as much as you pumped.
  • The evening before your first day back, pack the diaper bag and your pump bag. (See packing lists below.) Include an extra blouse or sweater that you can leave at work in case of a milk leak that soaks through breast pads.

What should you do when you return to work or school?

  • Be prepared. Your first day back at work or school may be very emotional. Try to start on a Wednesday or Thursday. Easing back into the work or academic world by starting with a shortened week will be less stressful. 
  • Breastfeed your baby when you wake up, then give him/her a “top-off” when you get to childcare.
  • Your baby will need at least two to three bottles while you are away, so you will need to pump at least two to three times during the eight or nine hours you are at work or school. (If you have a longer work day or longer commute, you will need to pump more milk.) This is the milk that will be given to your baby the next day at childcare. 
  • You may have an easier time having a let-down reflex if you look at a picture of your baby or have a piece of clothing handy that smells like your baby. Pack these in your pump bag. 
  • Clean pump parts that come into contact with you or your milk. Read the instructions that came with your breast pump. Between pumping sessions you may: 
    • »  rinse with cool water, then wash with warm soapy water and leave out to air dry, 
    • »  wipe with a sanitizing wipe sold by pump manufacturers, 
    • »  rinse parts well and store in the fridge or your cooler, and 
    • »  alternate options above throughout the day. For example, rinse and store in fridge after the morning pump session and wash in warm soapy water after the lunchtime pumping session. 
  • Some women prefer to purchase several extra sets of pump parts so they do not need to clean parts while at work or school and just put everything in the dishwasher at night. 
  • Breastfeed again as soon as you and your baby are back together. You can discuss your baby’s day with your childcare provider during this time. Let the mothering hormones that are released during breastfeeding help you relax and bond. 

1 Bridges CB, Frank DI, Curtin J. Employer attitudes toward breastfeeding in the workplace. J Hum Lact. 1997;13(3):215-219 

Resources 

Books

  • Working without Weaning: A Working Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding (2006) by Kirsten Berggren 
  • Milk Memos: How Real Moms Learned to Mix Business with Babies-and How You Can Too (2007) by Cate Colburn-Smith and Andrea Serrette 

Websites 

  • www.workandpump.com
    Has many helpful tips for managing the transition back to work 
  • www.usbreastfeeding.org
    Has information on new legislation that relates to breastfeeding 

The information presented here is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of professional medical care. If you have persistent medical problems, or if you have further questions, please consult your doctor or member of your health care team.